Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"The Killer in Me"

Margot Harrison is an award-winning journalist and author, whose fiction has appeared, among other places, in The Saint Ann's Review.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Killer in Me, her first novel, and reported the following:
The primary narrator of The Killer in Me is seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows, who believes she has a mysterious window into the mind of a serial killer. On page 68, I introduce a second narrator: Nina’s friend Warren, who has doubts about her sanity but is also a bit in love with her. On page 69, Warren explains why he has just allowed Nina to drag him all over a strange city in search of a killer who may not exist. He traces their friendship back to middle school, when she asked for the loan of a book.

From page 69:
It started in spring of seventh grade with the book report for Ms. Mullins. I’d stayed up all night reading The Man Who Japed, by Philip K. Dick, an old book I’d found at a library sale, and now I couldn’t seem to explain its convoluted plot. It didn’t help that every time I said, “Dick,” the whole class snickered, and Ray Welles, the class comedian, sang out, “Who you callin’ a dick, Witter?”

By the time I finished, Mullins’s voice was hoarse from shushing the class. “What does ‘japed’ mean, Warren?”

I’d read the whole book, yet my mind went blank, and sweat beaded under my collar.

Mullins made me fetch her enormous dictionary and read out the definition. When I was finally allowed to sit down again—amid mutters of “What a dick” and “Dick move, Witter”—a tiny, rolled-up note waited on my desk.

I’d never gotten a note at school that said anything good. I almost threw it away unopened, but curiosity won out. Standing at my locker after the bell, I deciphered a message written in silvery-purple ink and scrunched, adult-looking cursive: Your book sounds good. Can I borrow it? NB.
Very little of The Killer in Me is directly autobiographical (no, I have never stalked a serial killer). Page 69 is an exception: a naked steal from my own adolescence. Like Warren, I read and loved The Man Who Japed (and many other books by cult SF author Philip K. Dick). Like Warren, I delivered enthusiastic class reports on nerdy books that none of my contemporaries had any interest in. Like him, I had learned to fear handwritten notes from classmates who could smell weirdness and were prone to out-of-the-blue insults.

Unlike Warren, I did not find a soul mate to swap my books with—granted, an unlikely occurrence in rural Vermont in the 1980s. I wish I had.

While page 69 gives a decent sense of my book’s “voice,” it’s not typical of the content. Much of The Killer in Me is about dark imaginings and worst-case scenarios. This passage, by contrast, is teddy bears and rainbows. It paves the way for a romantic subplot in which Warren goes on a cross-country road trip with his long-time crush—something that, I’m guessing, many teens would jump at the chance to do.

Nina’s too preoccupied with that maybe-real killer to dwell on her feelings for her old friend. But, based on the connection we see here, Warren hopes he can change that. Some readers may hope so, too.
Visit Margot Harrison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue